A new class action lawsuit has been filed against Apple, in the Southern District of New York, alleging that the Apple Watch’s blood oxygen sensor is racially biased against individuals with dark skin complexions. The plaintiff, Alex Morales, argues that he purchased an apple watch between 2020 and 2021, and was aware that the watch “purported to measure blood oxygen levels and he believed it did this without regard to skin tone,” according to the lawsuit.
Morales filed the lawsuit on December 24th on behalf of all New York consumers who bought an Apple Watch during the statutes of limitations. He accused Apple of breaches of express warranty, fraud, and unjust enrichment, claiming violations of New York General Business Law and State Consumer Fraud Acts. He sued on behalf of residents in Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming under those states’ consumer fraud laws.
The lawsuit further claims that researchers, “confirmed the clinical significance of racial bias of pulse oximetry using records of patients taken during and before the pandemic.” Correspondingly, “reliance on pulse oximetry to triage patients and adjust supplemental oxygen levels may place Black patients at increased risk for hypoxemia.”
The lawsuit reads, “For decades, there have been reports that such devices were significantly less accurate in measuring blood oxygen levels based on skin color. The ‘real world significance’ of this bias lay unaddressed until the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic, which converged with a greater awareness of structural racism which exists in many aspects of society.”
The lawsuit further claims that researchers “confirmed the clinical significance of racial bias of pulse oximetry using records of patients taken during and before the pandemic.”
As a result, “reliance on pulse oximetry to triage patients and adjust supplemental oxygen levels may place Black patients at increased risk for hypoxemia.”
Before the filing of this lawsuit by Morales, Apple faced scrutiny in 2015 when users complained that black wrist tattoos interfered with the device’s heart sensor. In response, they released a statement informing the public that, “permanent or temporary changes to your skin, such as some tattoos, can also impact heart rate sensor performance. The ink, pattern, and saturation of some tattoos can block light from the sensor, making it difficult to get reliable readings.”
Apple declined to comment on Monday, but the tech giant’s website states that the Blood Oxygen app is “only designed for general fitness and wellness purposes…measurements are not intended for medical use, including self-diagnosis or consultation with a doctor.”